Black Lives Matter backs Amazon union push in Alabama

Organizers trying to form the first union at an Amazon warehouse are getting support from another big name: Black Lives Matter

The group plans to hold an event Saturday near the warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, making it the latest high-profile supporter of the union push, which is the biggest in Amazon's nearly 30-year history.

Most of the workers in the warehouse are Black, according to union organizers, and the backing from Black Lives Matter could help further legitimize the cause. Besides higher pay, organizers are also asking for more break time and for Amazon to treat workers with respect.

“Black workers have historically been the backbone of this country, its institutions, and innovations,” said Patrisse Cullors, the executive director of Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, in a statement. “Therefore, it is fully within our rights and dignity that we be treated and compensated fairly. Just as we have the right to live, we also have the right to work.”

Nearly 6,000 workers in the Bessemer warehouse have a little more than two weeks left to vote on whether they want to unionize. A majority of voters need to vote “yes” to form a union. Votes will be counted starting March 30.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden released a two-minute video saying workers in Alabama and around the country had the right to unionize without intimidation from their companies, but he didn't mention Amazon directly. Still, the video may be enough to push other workers to want to unionize.

“When you have a president saying that unions will help you, people can hear that," said Lynne Vincent, a professor at Syracuse University's Whitman School of Management.

More than 1,000 Amazon workers around the country have reached out to the union, according to Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is organizing the push at Bessemer. He said the union has also heard from workers at other companies who work in stores, warehouses and poultry plants.

Even with high-profile support, organizers have an uphill battle. Seattle-based Amazon has a history of crushing unionization efforts at its warehouses and Whole Foods grocery stores. Plus, Alabama’s laws don’t favor unions: It is one of 27 “right-to-work" states where workers don’t have to pay dues to unions that represent them.

Amazon’s pushback has included text messages to employees and meetings where the company tells workers the union will take money from their paycheck with little benefit.

Amazon, whose profits and sales have soared during the pandemic, has previously said that it believes union organizers don’t represent the views of the majority of its employees, and that it already offers what unions want: starting pay of $15 an hour and other benefits.

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